Fourty eight years ago Bob Jane won the first Bathurst and started a legend
Bob Jane was already a star when he and Harry Firth won the first Armstrong 500 miler at Bathurst in 1963. He’d also won the two previous 500s (at Phillip Island) and two Touring Car Championships (1962 and ’63), and was the top dog, the Mark Skaife of his day.
Jane has always been a fighter and a rebel. He rebelled against his mother who didn’t want him racing pushbikes at the Essendon velodrome (God knows what she thought of him racing cars), he outwitted a tyre manufacturer monopoly in the sixties, took on motorsport’s hitherto untouchable governing body (CAMS) in the courts more than once – and won – and went against conventional thinking to build the $60M Thunderdome and bring NASCAR down under. And he didn’t stop racing until 1984!
But it’s as the jovial face of Bob Jane T-Marts that he is best recognised for these days. How the racer came to sell tyres was the result of some happy “accidents”, as he likes to call them.
After winning the Touring Car Championship in a Jaguar, Jane (who financed his racing by selling cars) was offered a Jaguar dealership, but soon found the tyres fitted to the MK 10 Jags were causing problems. Jane imported Fulda tyres from Germany, cured the problem and presto! He was in the wholesale business and doing nicely until… “I was attacked by what was then a monopoly of the eight manufacturers in Australia,” Jane recalls.
“I was a bit too successful and found some of my markets drying up because they were solicited by the industry to stop my growth.
“So I though, bugger this, I’ll go into retail, and I opened a little shop in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne and started retailing tyres.” Outlets soon followed in Brisbane and Sydney and sales went ballistic as car owners were won over by price, quality, and the name ‘Jane’.
In 1970, the Bob Jane T-Marts concept was introduced and Bob Jane T-Marts franchising system established. Two years later, the first T-Mart franchise was opened in Artarmon, NSW by Hans Sommer; who is still with the company.
Strong growth continued into the eighties and by 1994 the 100th T-Mart had opened. The network became truly national in 1999 when T-Marts moved into the WA market through the acquisition of the Tom’s Tyres network. The rest is definitely not rubbery figures, and Bob Jane T-Marts is now Australia’s largest independent tyre retailer with 140 outlets.
Independence is a word Jane identifies with, so is ambition. Born in 1929, just before the Depression, Jane saw his parents’ poverty and resolved to look after them and his brother and sister, and not much has stood in his way since. He is wealthy now but still has the common touch and he uses his racetrack-learned nous just as readily as his business brain. Is he still tough? Damn right!
“I’m an aggressive bastard,” he chuckles. “But if aggression means not letting some bastard stop you doing something you have the right to do, then I am aggressive.”
Jane’s beloved Calder Park, the racetrack he’s owned for over 30 years, is no longer on the V8 Supercar and drag calendars due to differences with ruling bodies and concerns over insurance, but Jane winks and says Calder is “always looking for new opportunities, not just motorsport.”
You’ve got to hand it to Jane. He’s tougher than old shoe leather, he has carbon fibre plates in his ageing spine and is still battling prostate cancer, but he’s a long way from the retirement home.
His gait maybe a little slower but the brain that powers his stocky frame is as sharp as the day he first beat Bathurst. And 40 years later Jane will be back at Bathurst, this time as event sponsor for the next three years.